Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Giving “Pride” a Concrete Expression

It started out small.
(The names of the students have been blurred).

There we were again. Once again my 10th grade student, whom we’ll call Dan, was throwing a tantrum in class over his test grade.

He got an 87.

Which is a very nice grade for a fairly high level exam. But it wasn’t a  grade of 100 or at least one that is over 90 , which is marked with a different color in our computer grading system.

The tantrum was somewhat milder than the previous incident when he threw the test into the trashcan, stormed out of the classroom and shouted some more, so as to attract the attention of more teachers.

Dan has a particularly loud voice even when he is not shouting. Not only does he come from one of those families in which the volume of  daily communication is turned up high, he is one of those hard of hearing people who hear themselves well when they speak very loudly. In addition, his tone is often very aggressive. This attitude has served him well in life and compensates a bit for his learning disability – it seems that people are willing to do a lot just to get him to quiet down. It is quite difficult to have meaningful conversations with Dan as he is always ready to go into “confrontation mode”.

I tried to tell him  before he got the test back that I was really proud of him. I knew he had actually studied for the test and had done all the practice work. I was there when the class took the test and I saw that he really had made every effort.

I told Dan that I was proud of him and that I wanted to post about his achievement on our “I’m proud of YOU!” board.

But the number of the notes on the board is growing…

Dan refused. He was gearing up for his tantrum. It’s purpose was to get me to add 3 points to his grade.

I didn’t. He tried to get my lovely co-teacher to do it but she wouldn’t do it either.

Two days later I had the opportunity to talk to him outside of class. I told him how disappointed I felt that he wouldn’t let me celebrate his achievement by posting on the board (I don’t post about students without their permission.). Dan replied that only when he gets a perfect grade of 100 he will grant me permission.

That’s when I had a moment of inspiration and said:

… and growing!

“I wouldn’t want to post about you if you had gotten a grade of 100.  No way. That would have meant the test was really easy for you. I want to post about how much effort you put into studying for this test (which was not easy) and then did really well. I don’t post about kids for getting perfect scores”.

He actually listened to me. Not something to sneeze at.

Then Dan smiled, started walking away and shouted back:

“Then you should post about me on the board!”

From “100 Days of Rejection” to an “I’m Proud of YOU” Board

Wow, isn’t he something?
Naomi’s Photos

For some of my students, it is simply not enough for me to smile and say “Wow, that’s really clever of you, well done!” when they show me a video they made for a friend’s birthday. They need other students to know the teacher knows. More importantly, they need all the other students to see that I respect some things the student does even though everyone knows that in class he’s busy trying to pull girls’ pony tails, hide someone’s cell phone or off looking for his own lost school supplies.

Frankly, I myself need reminding too – we’re talking about 11th grade, did I mention that?!!

Then there are the good students, even the excellent students, who really need to hear  (or see, in my class of Deaf and hard of hearing students) a good word said about them that isn’t related to academic achievements. Some are so quiet that even their academic achievements aren’t well-known.

Word is spreading…
Naomi’s Photos

Duh, you may say (especially if you teach teens). EVERYONE, including we teachers, want to be noticed.

So why am I equally excited and worried about the new I’m Proud of YOU!” board now hanging in our English Room? My plan is to hang up notes, scattered around the board (wall wisher style) mentioning things students did as they happen, taking off old notes when it gets too crowded.

What could go wrong?

For starters – I really recommend watching the TED Talk below. I’m sure the teacher mentioned in the beginning of it had the best of intentions, but her intentions were not what mattered to the poor student. And my students need the board in order to add a tiny extra layer of protection to all the rejection many of them encounter in life.

The names of the students have been blurred.

At least, that’s what I hope.

I don’t want anyone to feel insulted.

I don’t want anyone to be made fun of.

I don’t want anyone to feel forgotten but it would be defeating the purpose if I hung up notes about all of my students on the same day. Everyone would lose interest in the board if it didn’t change. I plan to keep track of the names that go up.

Back to the TED Talk. My take away from it was that I should try.  I won’t be able to improve and make corrections if I don’t start! And I teach these students for three years, so I have time to make amends if needed.

The new board has been up for a few days but I’ve been out sick, so no students have seen it yet. I remain hopeful and concerned.

Updates will follow…

When a Family is Eaten by a Giant Pizza

All tangled up…
Naomi’s photos

Recently, as I was about to begin teaching a pleasantly small group of students, 10 of my deaf and hard of hearing 10th graders walked in and sat down. “The program director said we have to study with you, now” they announced. Obviously another lesson had been cancelled…

So there they were. And I needed something I could do with them and the students who were already in the class. NOW.

Since the 10th graders had a section on the passive form on their upcoming exam, I thought a quick review might be something that would work for everyone, at least for starters.

So I wrote the title “Logical or Ridiculous” and the following sentences on the board, inventing as I wrote (sentence 5 is a flop, I must admit):

The actual board

The students were asked to say which sentences were logical and which were ridiculous and why.

The first sentence was: A family was eaten by a giant pizza. It caused a surprising amount of confusion which really set me thinking. A significant number of the students read it as if the sentence said ” the family ate a giant pizza”, which is a perfectly logical thing to do in their opinion (some students complained that I was making them hungry!). They simply changed the word order in their heads! You might think that they simply don’t know the passive form but in other ways the same students exhibited a good understanding of it. I was surprised and tried to get students to explain their thought process. I even added the red markings to emphasize the passive form.

But what came up was that a few students were actually trying to follow something else I tell them day in and day out in the classroom – you must be flexible with the word order when reading a sentence, so that it will make sense.

In Hebrew adjectives come after the noun, not before it. In Israeli Sign Language word order is a totally different ball game. I constantly remind the students to read the whole sentence and then change what is needed in their heads so it will make sense.

Different Angles (Naomi’s Photos)

Being flexible with word order is an important skill for these students otherwise they can’t make sense of a great deal of what they read in a text. Remember, most of these specific students don’t speak in English, they just read and write. But it is a serious disadvantage when encountering a sentence like this, particularly in the passive form, when they end up distorting the meaning completely.

Of course they also do other things, such as what they did with the sentence: This classroom will be erased by the teacher next week. Almost all the students read it as “The whiteboard will be erased by the teacher”… But that’s another issue.

I have to think about my flexible-word-order message.  How to address issues without over complicating it.

 

 

Breathing and Blogging – When a Blog Turns Six…

Hooked! (Seen in the school yard) Naomi's Photos
Hooked!
(Seen in the school yard)
Naomi’s Photos

I first began blogging six years ago.

629 posts.

And I’m still here.

I can’t stop. It’s become necessary to my existence.

There is so much going on in the classroom, the students pose constant challenges. How would I sit down and reflect on reality in the classroom without my blog?

How could I be inspired by other teachers’ words and ideas without recording and sharing what then happened in the classroom?

How could I express my feeling of walking on air when a new video lesson I’ve created worked well in class, if I don’t share it with other teachers on my blog?

How could I have had the surprising opportunities to interact with teachers, speakers and authors if I didn’t have a blog to comment on their words?

How would I have met (mostly virtually, some in real life) teachers from around the globe, without my blog?

I don’t post as often anymore, that’s true.

But six years really grows on you. I can’t imagine life without my blog!

 

Having “LOTS” of fun with “HOTS”- with TEACHERS!

Attention, please! Naomi's Photos
Attention, please!
Naomi’s Photos

 

I was in charge of preparing a fun activity for a staff event.

I can only do what I know how to do – use visual material.

So I turned to my stack of video-lessons. In class I use them to work on answering reading comprehension questions of both types:   LOTS – Lower Order Thinking Skills / HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills.  I decided to utilize the same principles for the staff!

They seemed to like it!

The first activity was a KAHOOT! quiz related to the video  “Paper vs. Tablet” . With KAHOOT! everyone answers the questions using their cell phone. It turned out well to start off with something energizing and there was some good-natured competetion regarding teachers’ places on the scoreboard. In class I used this to practice WH Questions and I decided to stick with LOTS type questions for the staff too. Before showing the video I told everyone that they must be on their toes because they are going to watch a 39 second video and then they will  have to recall details regarding what they saw. Here are the questions that worked well (the KAHOOT! was not in English, so I’m not sharing it):

  1. How many characters were in the video?  (*Some missed the child!)
  2. How long was the video? (*Only teachers who listened to instructions got that one right!)
  3. What language was used?
  4. What is the MAIN purpose of the video ( I used “vengeance is sweet” as a distractor and that caused a lively argument about the word “main”).
  5. What is the woman’s name? (Everyone got THAT right, but that is important with teachers too).
Time to think... Naomi's Photos
Time to think…
Naomi’s Photos

The second activity was a KAHOOT! Survey and this was the most successful activity of all. We were 17 teachers and everyone likes being asked their opinion. Or, in HOTS terminology, we distinguished between different perspectives. This time they had to answer the following questions BEFORE watching the video:

Beginning at what age would you let your child do the following:

  1. wash dishes
  2. load the washing machine
  3. hang the wash on the line
  4. do the ironing
  5. water the plants
  6. make the bed
  7. take out the garbage
  8. walk the dog
  9. tidy up a room

Many teachers thought I was going to show some  sad video about the terrible plight of overworked children. Not so! They loved “Dial Direct”!

Feeding Frenzy! Naomi's Photos
Feeding Frenzy!
Naomi’s Photos

The third activity did not involve using cell phones. I showed a slide show with screen shots from what I described as an “instructional video to teach you to cook something”.  The teachers had to guess what dish it was. The skill of “prediction”, of course. No easy task when you see a section of Rubik’s cube being chopped and pin cushions being crushed. Quite a few teachers realized that picking a dollar bill off a plant and chopping it must be a green spice (basil, in this case). They all the thought that the animation in Western Spaghetti was very well done (BTW, the Rubik’s cube represented garlic).

I should have stopped there. Three activities were enough. For the last activity we did the Emotions of Sound activity as it is on the site (note, you have to click on the link on the bottom of the screen to get to the relevant screen to begin). It’s a nice activity but slow and that was too much. It is also a vocabulary activity not a HOTS one, so it didn’t fit in.

It’s a good thing to let other staff members (who aren’t EFL teachers) see what materials are being used in class.

Good and fun!

 

 

 

Using the Word “Promise” in Education, Freaks Me Out – A Comment

After The Mad Hatter's Teaparty Naomi's Photos
After The Mad Hatter’s Teaparty
Naomi’s Photos

Robyn Jackson, as always, makes some excellent points in her Mindsteps Article: 10 Promises We Should Keep to our Students.  I completely agree with the first part of the article, that it is irresponsible for an educator (teacher or principal) to promise that a student will graduate high-school or will finish a course successfully.

I am  a HUGE believer in the attitude expressed so well by Shel Silverstein in the poem “The Bridge”:

“This bridge will only take you halfway there / the last steps you have to take alone”.

I can put my heart in helping students learn, utilize all my professional skills, but I can’t learn for them. Therefore, I cannot promise they will master the material, pass the test and graduate successfully.

Clear enough. Or as the students might say, “duh”.

It's a real wolf! Photo by Omri Epstein
It’s a real wolf!
Photo by Omri Epstein

However, Jackson claims that there are ten promises we should be making to our students and that we had better keep them.

Calling them “promises” scares me completely.

And I won’t make those promises.

Because promises must be kept. I was also brought up that way. I don’t make promises to students because there are always too many variables.

I strive to give you, a safe learning environment, I really do. But I can’t promise that it will never happen that you think another student was making fun of your answer when my back was turned (even if he wasn’t) and you get insulted (or worse, with consequences) because your social skills are highly problematic.

I strive to provide challenging and engaging instruction that will meet your needs and help you grow but it is extraordinarily difficult to do so for all students all the time. Especially with some curriculum demands. Sometimes you may not like the task which I thought would be engaging…

I strive to listen to the verbal & non verbal feedback you are giving me to help you study, but sometimes what you want is not what you need, or is not something I am able to provide as a teacher.

I can’t even make promise number five, which is my favorite on Jackson’s list:

“I promise to keep trying until together, we figure out the best way to help you learn”.

Again, “together” requires a partner. I’m “game”, I’ll do my best to get you to be motivated too, but I can’t do anymore than that…

Finally, I can’t promise that on some days I won’t have a rough day of my own and not be the most attentive and  patient teacher I want to be.

Goals to strive for – YES!

But not promises.

Digital Literacy, Cyber Safety – What about COMPUTER HYGIENE?!

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What we don’t see CAN harm us. (Naomi’s Photos)

We teach the students how to copy links, look for information, submit answers,  switch between languages and formats and so much more.

We teach the students to protect themselves online, as in not sharing their telephone numbers / home addresses, being careful with their passwords and staying away from dubious sites.

And we do all this (and more) on the shared computers at school.

In my case, one computer in the English Center.

Students from all grades and the teachers have their ten fingers and their palms on the same keyboard and the same mouse for about forty hours a week.

Where else have these hand been and what have they been touching?

While I believe all teachers around the world support fostering a classroom culture of sharing, I don’t think sharing germs is on the list of goals.

And I haven’t been doing anything about it.

I came back to school the other day after being out sick for a week. That very same day one of our new students reminded me right away that he has “hygiene issues” (not verbally, of course. I’ll spare you the details) and then went over to do something on the computer.

Photo by Ido Epstein
Photo by Ido Epstein

I went out right after school and bought a big package of wipes (luckily another teacher gave me some wipes  that day at school after the aforementioned student worked on the computer).

All the sessions at conferences, discussions groups I’ve attended and posts I’ve read on using shared devices in class don’t mention hygiene. You don’t have to a special student with “issues” – so many kids sneeze, sniffle and cough for months around here.

Should I place the package of wipes at the edge of the computer desk and encourage each and every student to use one before his/her turn at the computer? I don’t want anyone making fun of another student or turning it into an issue. I would like the message to be the same as the one for protecting your password.

Common Sense.

What do you do?

 

 

Companion Flashcards for “Romance in Rome” Video Lesson

Elementary school dropout (Naomi's photos)
Elementary school dropout (Naomi’s photos)

Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve added Quizlet flashcards to give the students a chance to practice some of the prepositions that were highlighted in my “Romance in Rome” activity.

You are welcome to use my flaschcards. It is important to note that Quizlet is full of ready made sets on the topic of prepositions so there are lots of options. I tailored mine to be closely related to the specific video lesson. It is easy to make your own as Quizlet offers the picture bank as well.

https://quizlet.com/_2mrrs3

 

Pondering the Death of “Hangman”

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve always prided myself on almost always using games that actually require the students to practice the target language. Take board games, for example. The target language isn’t printed on the board, where the students can memorize what to do / say according to location. The target language is always on cards that we shuffle and change.

But I did play “hangman” with my deaf and hard of hearing students sometimes. My rationale was that slowly filling in each missing letter of the unknown word makes the students really pay attention to the word and what it looks like.

At the ETAI International Conference I attended last July, quite a few speakers brought up the issue of precious time being wasted on activities, including games, where what was really being practiced was not meaningful use of the language. “Hangman” was mentioned as an example.

I’ve been pondering this.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

My deaf and hard of hearing students need emphasis on the visual aspect – it would seem that this game makes students look very carefully at the letters that form the word, which helps them commit the word to memory.

But does it actually do that?

I’ll have to admit it doesn’t.

When I look back on the times we’ve played it in class, I think the thing we reviewed most is the alphabet. Some students may have picked up  some information about the frequency of letters in a word. But once my high school students discovered what the hidden word was, often after randomly and wildly guessing letters, most of them were not interested in the word itself and the meaning of the word went in one eye and out the other (eyes are better than ears in my classes, remember?). Usage and context wasn’t even a question. The students mainly wanted to know if we have time to guess another word before the bell!

Even if the students chose the words themselves, out of a printed dictionary, they weren’t paying attention to anything other than the length of the word…

So…

I’m relegating this game to the “almost” category I mentioned in the first line of this post. We’re talking about real life after all. Sometimes class dynamics (or teacher exhaustion) requires something light and simple to end a long day for everyone. It least the game is in English…

 

But I’m NOT Being NITPICKY, Students!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Alternative title – How to lose a teachable moment…

Yesterday we finally got started on creating a “Name Box” in class. Our version of Penny Ur’s recommendation to personalize grammar exercises (see post about that here) got off to a slow start because of two completely different reasons:

  • A friendly argument with another teacher about my claim that even though we are NOT following Penny Ur’s advice and using our students’ names, the fact that the students themselves are choosing the names of the famous people  included in the box will still have a personalizing effect. Students in special education classes are particularly sensitive and I firmly believe extra precautions are required (I use students’ names when I control the sentences, not a book).
  • It turns out that covering a lovely tin (that originally contained BarkTHINS)  with sticky red wallpaper is a terrible idea. All the lettering on the box comes through! And then the  sellotape (scotch tape) I used to tape pictures on the box over the lettering doesn’t stick well to the wallpaper! I’m still grappling with that problem…

Nevertheless, we began. Eleven students have already chosen their famous person. Along with the person’s name each student had to add the occupation and country (of origin).

I was really pleased that the students were interested in the names of professions and countries in English. The difference between “America” and “American” came up and we looked at how Brazil is really spelled.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

But then I ran into trouble. Three students chose names of actors. Great! Except for the fact that they referred to the profession as “players”.

I called everyone’s attention to the fact and tried to explain the difference between a football player and an actor.

The boys in the class thought I was talking nonsense. Why was I inventing a distinction? Why was I being nitpicky?

Not only is the word for both cases exactly the same in Hebrew, those boys play computer /video games and they know about “player one” and “player two”. Actors are just the same. Obviously their teacher doesn’t play enough video games…

At least the girls were more open to the idea of there being a distinction between a player and an actor…